NY Attorney General Touts Housing Counseling Programs
Echoing a theme that he has championed for years, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was at the Plattsburgh office of the Legal Aid Society Monday to highlight state programs that help homeowners at risk of losing their homes.
New York’s attorney general came into office during the housing crisis in 2011 and found that the state’s housing market had collapsed and resources did not exist to help families struggling to pay their mortgages. “It was and remains one of my top priorities as New York State Attorney General to try and help families hurt by the crash of the economy and to hold accountable those who caused it.”
The attorney general has created a number of programs to deliver legal assistance to aid property owners. Using $100 million from the multibillion-dollar bank settlements, the Democrat launched the Homeowner Protection Program – or HOPP — in June 2012. Other programs have been developed and Schneiderman says no other state has the combination of programs providing free legal aid to struggling property owners. “As long as I’m attorney general no one is going to lose their home because they could not get to a lawyer. So the first major step we took was to set up the Homeowner Protection Program which is a network of legal services and housing counseling providers. We fund almost 90 agencies all across the state to help New Yorkers stay in their homes. But many families in New York need a mortgage modification. But a lot of folks have a very small debt that prevents them from qualifying for modifications. So we created New York State’s Mortgage Assistance Program, or MAP, where we make non-interest bearing loans available to families to pay off these small debts, clear up their balance sheets, so that they can qualify for mortgages.”
Schneiderman is also confronting so-called rescue scams that take advantage of homeowners before they find out about the state’s programs. “These rescue scams are particularly despicable because they take people who are already victims of the crash of the housing market and make them victims again. So we’ve created a web-based app which is called AGScamHelp.com and check to see if a mortgage assistance company is legitimate. Just type the company’s name into the search box and you can see if the company has been vetted by either my office or by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
The Legal Aid Society of Northeastern NY and Friends of the North Country receive funding from the Homeowner Protection and Mortgage Assistance Programs to provide free legal assistance and counseling so people can avoid foreclosure. Legal Aid Deputy Director Peter Racette says they are essential services for struggling homeowners. “Equity in the home is a valuable resource. It permits a family to enter and remain in the middle class. Home equity can help finance higher education for children and grandchildren. Home equity can provide a secure retirement. And home equity can help provide a source of wealth to be passed to successive generations. Moreover home ownership gives people a stake in their community. The foreclosure crisis of the past few years has been a real threat to the prosperity here in the North Country and all over the state. The Attorney General’s programs allow us to help people get fair and accurate loan modifications and refinancing decisions from lenders and levels the playing field in court for those homeowners facing foreclosure.”
Almost half of the foreclosures in northeastern New York are so-called zombie properties — abandoned and unmaintained properties that banks have not foreclosed on. Plattsburgh Mayor James Calnon calls them blights on communities. “We’ve chased down ownership of properties, sometimes for two and three years, and really haven’t been successful in getting things done. The Attorney General’s efforts there are greatly appreciated. His efforts are really important to keeping our neighborhoods the kind of places that people want to live in.”
The attorney general’s office is working with land banks in New York to use $33 million from the National Mortgage Settlement to acquire vacant, abandoned, tax delinquent or foreclosed properties and return them to marketable use.